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Fiber broadband: Know what you're signing up for

Fiber broadband: Know what you're signing up for


Fiber broadband: Typical download speeds & symmetric plans

 

 

Things to look out for before you ink that fiber broadband contract

Speeds that enable lightning-fast downloads (and uploads) and broadband services not possible before, along with aggressive price plans and bundle offers from ISPs, it makes little to no sense not to go the optical fiber route when your existing dial-up, ADSL, or cable broadband contract is up, or when you’re wiring up your new home.

If there are two things you must do before signing up for a plan, one of them is to make sure your premise is ready for fiber. We’ve discussed this in our previous article, so if this is the first time you’ve heard of this thing called "fiber broadband" or you simply wish to do some catch-up reading, please head over to that article first.

Like buying anything in real life, the second thing you need to do is a bit of research; and in this case, it’s knowing what the various broadband terms mean, so that it makes sense when you start comparing plans from the different ISPs. Sure, you can have the promoters explain them to you; but going into the shop prepared is always a good thing, as it increases the chance of alarm bells going off in you when a clueless salesperson is trying to hoodwink you.

 

ISPs’ own fiber broadband resources

Thanks to the Internet, a lot of the research and comparison can be done at the comfort of your home. Of course, in most cases, what we really want to know are the plans on offer. If you want to cut to the chase, you can find the links to the six local home fiber broadband service providers' current price plans below.

Also noteworthy are the FAQs put out by the ISPs. Let’s face it: customer service officers aren’t always perfect. They may know the price plans at the back of their hand or the upgrade charges if you’re still within 12 months of your current contract, but they may not be equipped to answer technical questions like how typical speed ranges are derived or what’s the company’s traffic shaping policy. Instead of wasting time being put on hold, it’s sometimes quicker to skim through the FAQs or support pages. Again, you can find the links to the main ones below. We could of course extract the relevant information out to compare, but given the volatile nature of prices and terms offered, we've decided to link you to the respective pages for the most updated information.

 
Price Plan Link 1, 2 Link Link Link Link Link
FAQ Link Link Link Link NA Link

With that out of the way, let's look into a few of the finer aspects of fiber broadband, things that are important but are usually not highlighted (you know, those fine print) in the marketing collaterals.

 

1.) Subscribed speed vs. real-world speed

Do you know that the (insert number here) Mbps fiber broadband plan that you’ve subscribed to is a theoretical maximum speed and that you don’t hit that kind of speed most of the time? Well, now you know.

A better metric to pay attention to is the typical speed range, which is a range of download speeds that you’re more likely to experience. In some cases (e.g., M1, ViewQwest), this range consists of a mix of local and international downloads, and the result is applicable 80% of the time (because it’s taken at the 10th and 90th percentile of the speed distribution of the collected data points). Note too that such tests are always done with a wired connection. In other words, even if all the planets align, you’ll never hit that 1,000Mbps speed if your computer is connected over a Wireless 802.11n Wi-Fi network that tops out at 600Mbps.

Below is a table showing the typical download speed ranges for the various plans from M1, StarHub, and ViewQwest. StarHub is unique because it even breaks it down to local and international speed ranges.

Typical Download Speed Range (in Mbps)
 
Plan Overall Local International Overall
100Mbps 97.2 - 99.7 60 - 100 71.2 - 99.4 NA
150Mbps NA 90 - 150 73.5 - 109.5 22.7 - 148.5
200Mbps 194.6 - 199.3 120 - 199.2 74.2 - 115.6 30.2 - 198.2*
300Mbps 294.9 - 299.4;
296.9 - 304.2 (GamePro)
180 - 300 113.2 - 179.4 47.2 - 296.1
500Mbps 481.7 - 497 300 - 491.1 126.3 - 207.5 117.5 - 493.2
1,000Mbps 657.3 - 803.6 586.6 - 885.6 306.6 - 414.3 237 - 981.7
Note: Typical speed range figures according to current published data on respective ISP's website. *ViewQwest 200Mbps typical speed range kindly provided by ViewQwest.

For SingTel, it says that you’re able to experience average download speeds as advertised 95% of the time. While the largest ISP in Singapore doesn’t publish any typical download speeds, a spokesperson pointed us to IDA’s quarterly broadband report (more on that below), which shows that SingTel’s fiber broadband speeds are right up there with StarHub. It's worth noting too that at this moment, the chart contains results between March and May, which means the story is always changing. In our opinion, this serves to keep the ISPs on their toes.

For MyRepublic, there’s no speed limit imposed on international downloads as well, and the company claims that its unique data prioritization system affords everyone maximum advertised bandwidth 99% of the time for streaming, surfing, gaming, and VoIP. And while typical download speeds aren’t available at the moment, the company has plans to publish them soon. For SuperInternet whose both residential plans have an advertised speed of 100Mbps, it averages 92Mbps for local sites and 72.35Mbps for international (U.S. specifically).

Of course, with different testing methodologies and incomplete info from the ISPs, these results are at best a gauge of what to expect. Another good resource to supplement what the ISPs tell us is the aforementioned SamKnows data (which include download throughput, upload throughput, latency, and packet loss) published over at IDA’s website. For those unaware, SamKnows Pte Ltd is the vendor commissioned by IDA to assess the performance of the fixed broadband networks in Singapore; and the results are compiled from a total of over 900 test probes installed in the homes of volunteers. That said, only results from 200Mbps and below plans are published; if you’ve a faster plan, the HardwareZone NGBN forum is a good place to hang out, as our members frequently post their SamKnows report cards or Speedtest results.

 

2.) Symmetric upload/download speeds (mostly)

In the past, Internet usage was asymmetric, as in we downloaded way more than we uploaded. So by way of design and economics, even with high-speed ADSL and cable Internet connections, you got a disportionately slower upload speed compared to your subscribed download speed. For example, it’s common for a 100Mbps cable connection to have a 10Mbps upstream limit.

While we haven’t heard of anyone bringing pitchforks to ISPs’ offices to demand for higher upload speeds (there were some grouses, sure), one major advantage of fiber broadband is that it brought about a great bump in upload speed. Case in point: even the ‘slowest’ 50Mbps upload speed we’ve seen in a fiber broadband plan is way faster than what we had in yesteryears. So even if you aren't a heavy downloader, fiber broadband can be immensely helpful if you share files with others or stash things in the cloud a lot (think photo and video backups).

Despite the upload speed increase in fiber broadband, it was only last year that we saw most ISPs moving from asymmetric bandwidth (e.g., 100Mbps downstream/50Mbps upstream) to symmetric bandwidth (e.g., 100Mbps downstream/100Mbps upstream); that is, your subscribed upload speed is the same as your subscribed download speed. At this moment, M1, StarHub, and ViewQwest have moved to symmetric bandwidth for most, if not all, of their home fiber broadband plans. SingTel doesn’t explicitly say it on its website, but we’ve independently confirmed with a spokesperson that SingTel’s plans are symmetric too. An exception is the 1,000Mbps (or 1Gbps) plan offered by the likes of StarHub, ViewQwest, and MyRepublic. For their 1Gbps plans, the upload speed is capped at 500Mbps.

Of course, you may ask, “What about the typical upload speeds?” At this moment, IDA doesn’t require ISPs to publish typical upload speeds. But you can find out how the ISPs fared in general in the past few months from the SamKnows results on IDA’s website (again, 200Mbps and below plans only). And yes, our very active forum is another good avenue.